Pope’s Sweden visit strengthens ties with Lutherans
Before his visit to Sweden, Pope Francis had urged Lutherans to set aside doctrinal differences and work with Catholics to care for the poor, the sick and refugees as he laid out his vision for greater communion. Francis was addressing 1,000 Lutherans from Germany who were visiting the Vatican on an ecumenical pilgrimage.
“While the theologians work for dialogue in the doctrinal camp, it’s up to you to search insistently for occasions to meet, know one another better, pray together and offer help for one another and all those in need,” Francis told the delegation. “Putting ourselves at the service of the neediest gives us the experience of already being united: God’s mercy unites us.”
The Pope said he wanted his trip to Sweden to focus purely on promoting Christian unity, stating his goal for the trip is to come “closer to my brothers and sisters” in the Lutheran community. “Closeness does all of us good. Distance, on the other hand, makes us bitter.”
Hours after landing in Sweden Pope Francis said that without God we can do nothing, but with him Catholics and Lutherans can work toward greater unity – not in order to forget the past, but to heal it so all Christians can be better witnesses of God’s mercy.
“Certainly, our separation has been an immense source of suffering and misunderstanding, yet it has also led us to recognize honestly that without him we can do nothing; in this way it has enabled us to understand better some aspects of our faith.”
Like previous popes, Francis has reached out to Protestants, Orthodox and other Christians to try to heal Christianity’s divisions. But unlike his predecessors, Francis declared that theological differences should be put aside so Christians can work together on issues of pressing social concern, including caring for the poor and the environment and helping Christians under assault in Iraq and Syria.
“When Christians are persecuted and murdered, they are chosen because they are Christians, not because they are Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Catholics or Orthodox. An ecumenism of blood exists.”
In the search for Christian unity, “theological dialogue must continue.” However, he said, “personally, I believe that enthusiasm must shift toward common prayer and the works of mercy — work done together to help the sick, the poor and the imprisoned. To do something together is a high and effective form of dialogue.” Pope Francis also issued a Joint Declaration with Bishop Munib Yunan, President of the Lutheran World Federation on the occasion of the Joint Catholic-Lutheran Commemoration of the Reformation
Pope Francis pressed his call for Christians to forge greater unity, urging Sweden’s tiny Catholic community to set aside divisions with Lutherans on the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.
In his homily delivered at the Mass on Malmo, Francis continued with the theme of unity urging the faithful to meekly draw close to Christ and one another as they commemorate the Reformation over the next year.Meekness, he said, “enables us to set aside everything that divides and estranges us, and to find ever new ways to advance along the path of unity.”
The Pope said Christians are called to be blessed “to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age.’ He proposed a new set of Beatitudes for all Christians today, including:
“Blessed are those who pray and work for full communion between Christians.”
Asked what Catholics can learn from Lutherans and what they should value of the Lutheran tradition, Pope Francis responded, “Two words come to my mind: reform and Scripture.”
At a “difficult time for the church,” Martin Luther tried “to remedy a complex situation,” the pope said, but for a variety of reasons, including political pressure, his reform movement triggered the division of the church. But Luther’s intuition was not altogether wrong, the pope said, because the church is called to be “‘semper reformanda’ (always reforming).”
In addition, he said, “Luther took a great step by putting the Word of God into the hands of the people” and giving them the Bible in their language, rather than in Latin.
Despite the Pope’s enthusiasm and a promising start there are still many obstacles to unity, not the least the Church of Norway itself. It is the most liberal of the Lutheran churches, lead by a woman archbishop and not only condones gay unions but has male and female clergy in homosexual and lesbian “marriages”.